Let’s face it – between being burdened with a name that brings to mind mental associations of stuffed toys more than heavy metal, having a singer who comes from the wrestling arena and having started out as a cover band, Fozzy face a kind of unjustified struggle to be taken seriously that most bands don’t have; Jericho’s a damn good singer on his own terms, but he could have pipes like Pavarotti and still be straddled with the “gimmick” tag by naysayers because of his previous career.
But on this release, Fozzy have broken from stigmas and stereotypes to deliver an album that easily tops their former original work, and elevates their status in the heavy metal pantheon. On top of their traditional metal framework, they’ve expanded their sound in several different directions.
First, the two ballads on this album mark the first time Fozzy has “gotten soft”: Broken Soul may not attempt to break from the mould too much, but its straightforward attempt at hard rock balladry instills such a sense of nostalgia in me (granted, reviewer nostalgia should hardly be counted as an objective system) that I can’t not enjoy it. Meanwhile, New Day’s Dawn shows the band attempting an interesting, but soothing falsetto chorus, and despite the occasional awkward lyric ("Stopped and struck by a semi-truck of bad luck", guys?), it’s a good song.
At the same time, their sound has attained a heavier edge, which brings us to album highlight Pray For Blood. This song just kicks ass, with its borderline extreme tendencies, centered within a traditional metal framework for an absolutely punishing display of tastefully blasting drums, monstrous riffs and surprisingly convincing vocals. This is the kind of song that demands to be cranked up. God Pounds His Nails is also one of the album’s heavier numbers, and while good, it lacks the skull-crushing, yet acutely melodic assault of Pray For Blood.
The more typical Fozzy sound, of heavy metal with slight, unobtrusive influences from groove and hard rock, comes into play on most other tracks; opener Under Blackened Skies shows the band waving their banner hard and with a firm sense of balance between their various influences, while tracks like Watch Me Shine and Martyr No More show the band in similar form to their previous album.
But its album closer Wormwood that truly showcases Fozzy’s evolution as a musical unit. This almost fourteen-minute epic based on the Book of Revelation doesn’t merely dabble in me-too prog territory, as many bands approaching such a feat for the first time may be want to do; no, it is a full-blooded prog song at its core, allowing itself to build naturally, rising from a humble acoustic cut to a full-on attack of memorable guitarwork, powerful vocal arrangements, a Hammond organ somewhere in the first half and even one movement with decently-executed harsh vocals. None of it feels out of place, either; the band shows amazing fluency in the style despite this being their first cut over ten minutes. If you like Dream Theater’s songs of this size but aren’t a fan of their extended instrumental sections (of which there are none here), make it your duty to check this. As relative to the rest of the record, it’s one of the finest climactic songs I’ve ever heard; considering the mythology being invoked, I almost look at it as a more organically-arranged counterpart to Iced Earth’s Dante’s Inferno.
It took Fozzy three albums in which to find their grounding as a totally original group, and another one in which to put forth what I think is a truly great record, but they’ve finally done it. Pick up this surprise smash and support a band that’s really put their best foot forward.